Book Review: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted and this is not due to a dearth of reading material, let me tell you. I just started my summer job and it’s been a little exhausting trying to find a moment for myself while juggling my job and other responsibilities and still trying to have some summer fun. I feel a little more at ease now and am happy to return to my blog! My other issue was that I had been weirdly locked out of my WordPress Account for a week or two so I’m glad to be back with full access! I’ve also been racing to get my visa paperwork through for my impending move to France which has been a slog but I can finally see the light! I actually finished this book in the same week as the other two in the trilogy but was unable to take time for put down my thoughts. After having finished all three books, I can still say that I loved the trilogy and enjoyed the ride. Each book had a different flavor and overarching themes but I really enjoyed them all. I will say that Pullman seems to have shifted direction a little bit in the last book but I still loved the story. So without further ado, The Amber Spyglass!

At the end of the Subtle Knife, Will gained possession of the Subtle Knife and Lyra was stolen away by her own mother, ostensibly for her own protection. The Magisterium is hot on Mrs. Coulter’s trail and decides to destroy Lyra for her role in the upcoming battle between Lord Asriel and the Magisterium. However, Lyra and Will find themselves pursuing a parallel adventure in search of Roger, Lyra’s old friend from her days at Oxford College. At the end of the book, the Magisterium and the Authority battle with Lord Asriel for cosmic control of the universe while Lyra discovers just how painful the sacrifices can be. Honestly, I was about halfway through this book while getting my car serviced and I legitimately began to cry in the middle of a car dealership because of how invested I had gotten and how painful things were in the book. Pullman did a wonderful job of animating each character and you can feel their joy and happiness and pain and sorrow just as if it was your own. This book really did destroy me a little bit and I do not regret that experience. I would recommend reading the whole series, I would absolutely not read this as a stand alone book as it is too intertwined with the broader narrative within the trilogy. I also didn’t think that it was as blasphemous as was claimed before I read the book. I’ll leave it there because to give much more detail would spoil the book. I hope I haven’t been too vague about the book, I just don’t want to give away precious details that the reader should discover on their own. I loved the trilogy and I hope that all young adults get the chance to read it. Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

I’m glad that I was able to grab this book right away after finishing The Golden Compass because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. I raced through this book, absolutely devouring each page. I think I finished it in a day or two and I read it so quickly after The Golden Compass that I was debating putting the two together in a book review. However, the plots differ quite a bit and I felt that it was unfair to the author to lump them together even if they were a delight to devour one after the other. This book was just as magical to me as The Golden Compass. Pullman creates new main characters that he is able to masterfully tie into the main storyline as if they were meant to be there all along. It makes me wonder if he had mapped out the wider story before writing The Golden Compass or if it was the product of workshopping various ideas together to fill out Lyra’s universe. Either way, what a book! It did get a little confusing at points because Pullman introduces SO much new material in this book and just expects the reader to absorb it as quickly as he’s writing it. In order to clarify things, let me explain the plot briefly to help you get your bearings a little better.

By the end of the first book, Lord Asriel has jumped into another world and Lyra decides to pursue. However, she ends up in an entirely different world, our own. She meets a young boy, Will, and they begin to search for Will’s father, John Parry. Still in Lyra’s world, the witches and Lee Scoresby seek out Lyra by any means possible. Lee Scoresby searches for Stanislaus Grumman in an effort to locate an entrance into the world where Lyra is. At the end, all are reunited, Grumman, Lyra, Will, and the witches but all is not what it seems. Meanwhile, Lyra is still being pursued by the dreadful Mrs. Coulter and has to evade her minions throughout the book. The hallmark of this new book is the world hopping, which Will and Lyra do multiple times in an effort to evade their enemies. This world hopping can be disorienting to the reader but Pullman describes each new world with a few specific clues that readers can use to distinguish where Lyra and Will have ended up. Pullman does a great job of giving each of these worlds their own characteristics and paints a rich picture of a multiverse where Lyra and Will can traverse across many unique worlds. I loved this book just as much as The Golden Compass and hope that my readers get the chance to read this book as well as The Golden Compass. I would recommend against reading the books out of order as you may lack crucial information from the previous book. Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

This book review has been a long time coming! It’s been over a month since my last post and I appreciate the patience as I tackle a few old challenges and some new adventures! Finals were tough and I’m happy to be back at home and up to my old tricks once again! I’ve tried a few times to read The Golden Compass and almost finished it last time but didn’t quite get there. This time, I borrowed the whole series and set out to read them all. And WOW was I shocked at how good these books were. At the moment, I’m already halfway through the third book and the review for the second book should be out sometime soon. Pullman does an incredible job of creating entire new worlds that seemed pulled from nowhere and investing the reader into the little life of Lyra. I would like to address the biggest controversy around the books, which is that they are heretical or anti-God. I didn’t really understand why these claims were being made until I reached the end of the first book, then the lightbulb went off. They do have a distinctly anti-organized religion bent and one could even say they are anti-God. However, these are fantasy novels and are not being presented as factual by Pullman. I feel that they might not be appropriate reading for a very religiously focused household but I think that with the use of deeper literary analysis, these books can be understood just fine. I also have a strict policy of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These books contain some fantastic writing and I feel transported every time I open them. Some people may take offense at the longer plot points but I don’t think that is any reason to deprive yourself of some truly fantastic fiction. With the elephant in the room addressed, let’s move on to the actual book!

The Golden Compass follows Lyra Belacqua, a precocious eleven year old and her beloved daemon, Pantalaimon. Lyra has grown up running feral through the halls of Jordan College in Oxford and becomes swept away from her beloved home and friends in a tide of destiny. She travels with gypsies, explores the Arctic, befriends an armored bear, and confronts the horrors sponsored by her own mother. By the end she is reunited with Lord Asriel, her guardian but that is certainly not the end of her story. Lyra uses her wits and innocence to bend others to her will and complete her destiny. Lyra is a wonderful character and following her journey in the book was a joy. Not only is Lyra a marvel of literary creation, all of the lands that she travels through are described so vividly that they feel as real as the chair that I’m sitting on while I read. If you couldn’t already tell, I loved this book. I know that it’s classified as young adult fiction but I really felt that it was a book that was more meant for adults? I enjoyed it much more as a young woman than I would have in my younger years.

Book Review: A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

What are you supposed to do after finishing an epic fantasy novel like The Priory of the Orange Tree? Obviously, jump into another fantasy series of which you only happen to have the first book! Yes, this was my big brain move to try and avoid the reader’s crash after finishing The Priory of the Orange Tree. This novel first came on my radar after reading a book review of the final novel in the series, Cerulean Queen, in the Wall Street Journal over the past year. After that review, I put the first in the series on my booklist and the rest is history! This is yet another birthday book so shout out to my brother for the birthday present! Thank you!!! Books are one of my favorite presents and they make up the majority of any gift list I am ever asked to provide. But without further ado, my take on A Queen in Hiding.

A Queen in Hiding tells the tale of Cerulia, the princella of Weirendale and follows her plight from a comfortable existence surrounded by nobles in the castle to becoming the foster child of a farming family. Her mother, Queen Cressa, flees the capital of Weirendale after discovering a nefarious plot against herself and her daughter, placing Cerulia in the hands of a peasant family and leaving to try and recapture her throne. The novel spans about a decade and explores the unrest occurring throughout the Nine Realms, foreshadowing the foes that Cerulia will have to defend herself against once she tries to reclaim her throne. The novel is a lovely read, not quite as entrancing as some, but with a good story and a plucky heroine. I would recommend this to lovers of young adult novels and fantasy in general. It’s a very female focused novel which I adore and found to be really refreshing. I hope that you get a chance to try reading this novel and happy reading with whatever is on your night stand these days!

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I loved this book so much! It’s so rare these days to find an entire fantasy series encompassed by one novel, however large that novel may be. This book was gigantic but I read it pretty quickly because I was so entranced by the story! Samantha Shannon does an excellent job of building an entirely new world full of mythical creatures and strong women who don’t take no for an answer! I first saw this book at a bookstore while I was in Spain last January and immediately put it on my booklist. I knew I couldn’t buy it then because it would’ve added at least five pounds to my bags but my brother kindly purchased it for me for my recent birthday. I’m so glad he did because this is a gem of a novel.

The Priory of the Orange Tree begins with the story of Ead Duryan, a highly trained warrior priestess who has been assigned to protect Queen Sabran of House Berethnet, ruler of Inys and leader of Virtudom. The House of Berethnet has kept “the Nameless One” at bay for a thousand years and has benevolently ruled Inys but no longer. The minions of the Nameless One are on the rise and Ead must find a way to protect Sabran and all of Virtudom before the Nameless One conquers all. The Priory of the Orange Tree tells Ead’s tale through her eyes and all those around her which I found enchanting for filling out the world that Shannon created. The novel is also very inclusive with a diverse set of characters. I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel because it didn’t seem forced but a natural extension of the world that Shannon built. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to trudge through all 800 pages. I appreciated its length because I felt that the story was able to truly develop each character. However I did feel that the ending was a little rushed but it did the job. It was a wonderful escape to another world and I hope you get a chance to enjoy Shannon’s writing sometime soon. She is also the author of a pretty popular series, The Bone Season, so that may be next up on my reading list! Happy reading!

Book Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

This book was a huge hit this year! After the protests over the summer, I remember seeing this book on a ton of recommended reading lists. I sort of picked this one up on a whim and am glad that I did! The story was thrilling and kept me enthralled until the last moment! Ostensibly just a thriller, this novel examines deeper societal anxieties that are contained within the move to gentrify so much of the inner city. I found it informative as a primer on the other side of gentrification. As someone who had never lived in a city before coming to college, I hadn’t really understood why gentrification was fundamentally opposed by so many people in those neighborhoods. This book really helped me to grasp the feeling of loss and loss of control within the lives of people whose neighborhoods are being or have been gentrified. It’s not so much that the shops and new developments are totally out of the original resident’s price range but also the loss of all the familiar places and people that comes along with gentrification.

We meet our protagonist ,Sydney Green, at a moment of crisis. Her neighborhood is gentrifying, she’s unemployed for the summer and freshly back in Brooklyn after a painful divorce. From the first moments of the book, there’s a feeling that nothing is as it seems. Sydney’s mother along with multiple neighbors seem to have disappeared and a new pack of white neighbors have suddenly bought their homes. Sydney is barely hanging on to her own home supported only by her best friend. Soon, Sydney crosses path with Theo, her unassuming new neighbor and they begin a quest to discover the true history of their Brooklyn neighborhood. Sydney and Theo are led down a twisted path of treachery and discover more about their neighborhood than they thought possible. Their friendship survives the book but barely! The story kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time and I read this one quickly, in one or two days. I think my only issue was that there seemed to be some pretty major plot leaps in the final few pages that felt rushed. I felt like the conclusion just sort of slaps you in the face and I felt underwhelmed. However, I would still recommend reading this one, it is fun and thought-provoking, the best of both worlds. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Spoiler alert. If you really want to be totally surprised when reading the Neapolitan novels, read no further! If you don’t mind a few little hints about the future of Elena and Lina, read on! “The Story of a New Name” is the second installment of the Neapolitan novels, which I promptly tore through once I finished “My Brilliant Friend”. Again, I’m glad I waited for long time before diving into these books so that I would never be left hanging unlike the adventurous readers who first picked this book up! I read this book in a couple days, sucked in by the existing knowledge of the Neapolitan novels and by the cliffhanger at the end of the first book. The end of the first novel really sets the tone for the second in a way that is entirely enjoyable to devour but heartbreaking all the same. Another shout-out to my boyfriend, this was my second surprise after coming back to school and it was lovely. I’m so glad someone had the forethought and insight on how much I would enjoy these novels because I don’t know what I would have done with myself if I hadn’t had this to devour after finishing the first novel.

“The Story of a New Name” picks up immediately after the end of “My Brilliant Friend”. Lina returns from her honeymoon with a rocky start to her new marriage while Elena goes off to college. I was shocked at how much goes on in this novel in a comparatively short time frame, it only covers about three or four years of Elena and Lina’s lives compared to the first which covered a decade and a half. Elena and Lina’s relationship remains like the ocean, ebbing and flowing based on the tides or whatever happens to being going on in their lives. Elena grapples with coming to terms with her feelings of profound loneliness and her perceived inability to belong anywhere at all. Throughout the novel, Lina and Elena continue to grapple with their true desires and how to get them in a world that accords a woman so little. I did really love this novel. I think it hit a deeper spot in my heart than “My Brilliant Friend” because I am in college and I relate to the emotional trials and tribulations of Elena in trying to establish who she is without losing who she was. I would absolutely recommend this one to all. I think it was better than the first novel, but I don’t think you can skip around in this series because you will lose a lot of context for why the characters act in specific and seemingly illogical ways. Let me know what you think, and as always, Happy Reading!

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

This is a very, very popular book. I don’t think I’ve been in a bookstore in the past five or so years without seeing this book. I hadn’t read this before because I was previously put off by the picture on the cover, it seemed a little old-fashioned and too “adult” for me. And it definitely was! I’m glad I waited until I was a young adult to crack this one open because it was truly a delight that was definitely not appropriate for my younger self to read. One aspect of any of Ferrante’s novels is the mystery and debate around the author herself, people trying to find out who are they really and are they really a woman?? I don’t really care about the ~mystery~ of the author, but I really appreciate a good story and this was one! It took me a while to get sucked into the novel but it eventually caught me like it has so many other readers. Also, quick shoutout to my lovely boyfriend who purchased this for me as a surprise for when I came back to school. I love receiving books from the ones that I love, so thank you very much! Shout-out to my parents for also feeding my lifelong book addiction, it was and is much appreciated.

Back to the book! Ferrante’s novel follows Elena Greco, a young woman from Naples through her childhood in “My Brilliant Friend”, the first in the Neapolitan Novels. Elena’s fate is intertwined with that of her best friend, Lina, a seemingly surly and unlikable girl. This novel follows the two girls from infancy into their mid-adolescensce and is told through the eyes of Elena. Ferrante’s novel examines the complicated nature of relationships of all sorts, our friendships, our romantic relationships, and even our familial relationships. Our protagonist Elena is extremely self-aware and this lends itself to her critical evaluation of every moment, for better or for worse. I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would! It didn’t suck me in immediately and that was disappointing, but I now realize that Ferrante’s writings caught me in complex web that just took time to get stuck in! I would recommend this for 18+ both because of the complex themes and the tendency of Ferrante to include the occasional racy scene. Find it second-hand if you can, I’m sure there are many copies out there! Happy reading!

Book Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This book was a wild ride!!! It was another one of my Christmas books and I was very happy to see it! I saw this in the same bookstore as “Hidden Valley Road”, which was Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. This being said, I implore you all to try and patronize your local or independent bookstores as much as you can during this never-ending pandemic. Often books from local or independent sellers can be pricier than Amazon or other larger sellers, but when I have the extra money to do so, I try to think of the higher price as part of an investment in my community. Local bookstores provide so much more for their communities than Amazon can ever do so try to support them if you can! Back to the book! As I mentioned, reading this book is a journey and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed with some minor misgivings about the author’s style. As a novel about opera singers, it is written as a love story to the art of opera and I would highly recommend listening to the operas or just specific songs as they are mentioned in the book. I didn’t do this and I think my reading would have been richer for doing so because I am not super familiar with opera.

The book follows Lilliet Berne, a fictional soprano from the Fin de Siecle in France. The book follows her recollections of her curious ascent to the heights of operatic fame and the cost of such a journey to herself and others. I loved the story which was inspired by Jenny Lind who ended her career touring America with PT Barnum and his circus. Lilliet’s life is full of twists and turns that were delightful to explore! My only issues with the book were stylistic. Mr. Chee chooses to not differentiate his lines of dialogue from the rest of his prose which can be confusing. I did get used to it eventually but not without irritation on my part. Furthermore, Mr. Chee writes the novel in a mix of past and present which can be jarring but I didn’t take as much umbrage at this as I did with the dialogue. I really loved the story, it absolutely drew me in but I was so frustrated with Mr. Chee’s style at certain points that I almost stopped reading. I’m glad I didn’t because the novel was delicious to devour but future reader, be warned! Happy reading and please support your local bookstore if you can! (My copy of The Queen of the Night was from Vroman’s in Pasadena, a fabulous bookstore that ships nationwide!)